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Holly Sabara, Member of the Canadian Mental Health Association Water Wellington Family Council, left; the Honourable Michael A. Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions; Robert Eilers, President and Director of Vesterra Group of Companies and Helen Fishburn, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington dig in for the groundbreaking of the Centre for Children’s Mental Health and Developmental Services Building.Handout

The organizer: Robert Eilers

The pitch: Donating land and a building worth $50-million

The cause: The Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington

Robert Eilers has built a successful global business but he has spent much of his life struggling with mental-health issues.

He grew up in Toronto with an abusive father and spent years on the streets as a troubled teenager. Thanks to the support of a kind stranger, Mr. Eilers found his way to McGill University and a career in finance. In 2002 he created the Vesterra Group, a diversified real estate company based in Guelph, Ont., that has operations in Canada, the United States and Europe.

Despite the success, Mr. Eilers, 52, has continued to face mental-health challenges. He has spent years in therapy to deal with a divorce and to cope with colon and prostate cancer.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for people who had helped me,” Mr. Eilers said. “The only way that I can ever thank the people who took the effort and believed in me, is by doing the exact same thing back for others.”

Mr. Eilers has been working with the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington on construction of a new centre. He’s donating the land and the cost of constructing a three-storey building to house the association’s youth services. The donation is worth around $50-million and the centre is expected to open in early 2023. Helen Fishburn, the chief executive of the CMHAWW, said the facility will allow the organization to serve 9,000 young people annually.

Mr. Eilers said he initially wanted the donation to be anonymous. But the pandemic has shown him the importance of addressing mental-health issues and he hopes his story will encourage others to come forward. “I’m hoping that people will admit their humanity. We’re just human beings. Whether we’re rich, whether we’re poor, we’re all dealing with the exact same issues.”

He added that his cancer is in remission and he’s planning more projects with the association. “I feel that this is my purpose, this is what I was brought here to do. I’m excited, I’m happy.”

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